Archive for March 2015

Jesus, Transformed: A Coverfolk Mixtape
featuring Norah Jones, The Wood Brothers, U2 and more!

March 28th, 2015 — 1:16pm

A familiar conversation last night over dinner with the church choir director, in which the old trope of wondering why our choir is so oversensitive to the Catholic liturgy turns quickly to the larger questions of why Unitarian Universalists as a general case are so often afraid of this particular text and source. And there is unusual urgency, this evening, as holy week approaches; tonight, our kids choir takes the stage in an especially non-canonical production of Godspell, the musical, and although we believe strongly that ours is a vision truly realized, there is no way to anticipate whether or not that vision will offend at least a few of the parents and family friends who will attend our production this evening.

My first college major was religious studies, and I attended a liberal high school that required a course in Bible As Literature; to claim ownership of the name and meaning of Jesus in the pure textual sense is honest and easy for me. But as a native Jew, and a convert of sorts to the sort of Unitarian Universalism that holds the gospels at arms length, my lifelong understanding of Jesus has been almost exclusively literary and historical, not spiritual.

There’s some use in this, I think: for years, a combination of iconoclastic playfulness and a coincidental look-alike comparison to the classic image of the Catholic cross – long hair, beaked nose, and reddish beard – let me play Jesus at Halloween for years; I have worn the crown of thorns, and the robe, and even the stigmata, several times, and reveled in the glee and discomfort it produced.

But as I wrote in my director’s note for the program, the Gospels as portrayed in Godspell are daunting, from both religious and theatrical perspectives. I’ve performed it, and found it a risky show by design; I’ve studied it, and know that the character of Jesus is heavy, indeed, in our history, both as Unitarian Universalists, and as denizens of a 21st century world.

And so to frame Godspell in the terms of Unitarian Universalist practice seemed especially challenging, at first. And then I started working with our kids. And suddenly, making this production into a true reflection of their growing vision of what it means to be UU was natural and humbling.

As part of this realization, I decided that being authentic about the communal ownership of text and source was best served by finding a way to cast the character of Jesus as more of a rotating facilitator’s role than a prophetic voice – or at least, an opportunity to give all who are ready to do so the chance to model and find comfort in leadership.

Yes, in our production of Godspell, Jesus is a role, a costume to don, through the seriousness of play. Eight children, my daughter among them, take their turn in the robe as the play progresses, each revealing their own interpretation of leadership as they model the multivocal lay-led facilitation that lies at the heart of our UU practice.

And so, through our exploration of Jesus as man and myth, we enact the larger questions of the culture these twelve to fourteen year olds have inherited. And so, as is so often the case, my thoughts turn to the world of music, and coverage, to find solace and insight in the way others have done so, too.

Love it or hate it, Jesus the character floats troubled above our modern mythology, ripe and ready for transformation and memetic use. For some, he stands for love; for others, hope; for still others, a focus for frustration, a lens into the troubled metrics of the most rigid trappings of the modern world.

And so throughout the past half decade, our everquesting culture and its craftspersons have come to produces artifacts which our forefathers would have considered the worst of heresies. Sacrilegious and strained, the songs we find in our folk and rock genres are neither hymns nor carols, but borrow from the gospels and the cross to criticize and calm, making as they go new ownership of the character of Jesus: as everyman, as savior, as lost boy, as teacher.

Listen, as the robe becomes flesh in song. Listen, as our favorite songsmiths transform the world anew, their treatments tender and caustic in turn. Listen, for he is risen in our hearts and souls.

Listen, and rejoice.

Transforming Jesus: A Coverfolk Mix [zip!]

Always ad-free and artist-centric, Cover Lay Down shares new coverfolk features and songsets regularly throughout the year, with bonus tracks and streaming coverage on our Facebook page.

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5 comments » | Mixtapes

Waiting To Be Restored:
Searching For Home In The Paul Simon Songbook

March 9th, 2015 — 9:38pm

Daylight savings time notwithstanding, the nearness of Spring makes for a brighter world when I leave my children to their sleep. Most mornings, it is not enough to lift the heaviness I feel, here in the breakneck days of March, when the various components of my life – teaching, directing, serving on the local school board – come to a head all at once, and me with my children continuing to struggle with chronic illness.

But the soundtracks of life are everpresent, and they say music soothes the savage breast. And so I make and listen to my own playlists in the car, trading NPR awareness away for just a few moments to feel each day, before the car stops, and I walk into the confusion and stress of what is increasingly an unsettlingly precarious new normal.

Recently, that’s meant a lot of Paul Simon covers; in both his incarnations – alongside Art Garfunkel, and as a solo act – Paul Simon serves the yearning soul better than most, in these days on the edge of grief. There are many reasons for this, from the continued primacy of Simon’s songbook in the popcult airwaves to the recent televisory reminder that he was a key player on the early days of Saturday Night Life to the constant renewal of his songs through evermore coverage. But mostly, to say that Simon is a better speaker on behalf of my soul is to acknowledge the sheer potency of that particular subset of his canon that speaks directly to the unmoored sense of self which typifies my own uneasy days.

Simon’s everyman, restlessly longing for stability in the storm, is legendary. His descriptors of distance and domain are unparalleled among the chroniclers of the heart. And a full complement of songs serves to prove our case; their diversity – of situation, and of interpretation – validates our dreams.

Simon’s recipe is potent: lead with a crisply envisioned moment, widen the lens to capture the leavetaking of home, end with the setting sun, a question on the horizon. Pilgrims and immigrants, travelers and tour-mates, our narrators search their own stories, looking back on love affairs and road trips, trying to make sense of the lost and found, the detritus that floated them here, finding temporary solace and stillness in wistful memories of seventh avenue whores, store-bought pies, and other simple, concrete pleasures. United in their plight, they stand for all of us, awed by the world that whizzes by from the windows of our trains and cars, humbled by the poignancy and precariousness of love and the gritty imperfections of our broken promises, always, always, grateful for the memories.

Listen as the nirvana of Simon’s searchlight songbook of hope grants grace in gravity. Listen, as like a magician, Simon reveals motion itself to be the human condition, and celebrates it.

Listen, that our hearts and bones remain true, and not come undone.

Listen, and be still in the whirlwind of your life, too.

Looking for more Paul Simon coverage? Check out alternate takes on Homeward Bound and America from Red Molly and First Aid Kit in our Best of 2014 Singles Mix!

3 comments » | Mixtapes, Paul Simon, Simon and Garfunkel

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